First appearing in the 1920s, the Universal Monsters have since then become a cornerstone of movie lore. Characters such as: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, are among the expansive roster of monsters. Spanning over the last century, these monsters have had a huge cultural impact. Different iterations of these creatures have been remade into movies and television programs over the years, none of which could capture the shared magic of the originals. As of late these wonderful properties have fallen out of the public eye, but not for long it would seem.
With the announcement of of Universal's Shared Cinematic Universe (USCU) launching in 2017 with the release of The Mummy reboot, these 100-year-old properties seem to be coming back from the grave. Since Universal is bringing their monsters back, what films and monsters are going to make up this new shared universe? Let's take a look at the roster of Universal Monsters, from their humble beginnings and recent failures, to their bright future in the UMCU.
'The Mummy' is a 1932 American Pre-Code horror film directed by Karl Freund. The screenplay by John L. Balderston was from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer. Released by Universal Studios, the film stars Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Arthur Byron. The film is about an ancient Egyptian mummy named Imhotep who is discovered by a team of archeologist and inadvertently brought back to life through a magic scroll. Disguised as a modern Egyptian, the mummy searches for his lost love, whom he believes has been reincarnated into a modern girl.
The original film was released in 1932 and still has cultural relevance to this day. Luckily for the moviegoing public we now have Tom Cruise and his phenomenal on-screen running skills to usher in this property for a new generation. We offer him our thanks. Run, you good-looking fool!
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Starring Tom Cruise as Tyler Colt, The titular role of The Mummy will be played by Sofia Boutella (Stark Trek: Beyond, Kingsman: The Secret Service), and this film will also introduce Dr. Henry Jekyll played by Russell Crowe. Who will play one hell of a Mr. Hyde as well! Alex Kurtzman is directing as well as serving as a producer on other UMCU films.
Universal has spared no expense when it comes to star power and are putting everything they have into these franchises. Principal photography began in April 2016 and is set for a June 9, 2017 release date. Little is known of how this plot differs from the original films. We can be assured that this will kick the gates wide open and usher in a new generation into the wonder that is the Universal Monsters.
The Wolf Man
'The Wolf Man' is a 1941 American drama horror film written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Waggner. The film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as a werewolf named 'The Wolf Man' and features Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Béla Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya in supporting roles. The title character has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood's depictions of the legend of the werewolf.The film is the second Universal Pictures werewolf film, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful 'Werewolf of London.'
Ah yes, we all know the story of the werewolf. A man who was bitten by wolf retains the curse. This curse is activated on the full moon and turns the man into an unrivaled killing machine. There have been many iterations, ranging from a misunderstood creature who cant control his animal instincts to a blood thirsty murderer.
This property was recently rebooted in 2010 in the film The Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. This film was critically panned and has no influence on the upcoming version. Widely regarded as boring and lacking any real suspense, just like The Mummy, this film has no impact on the cannon of the UMCU. Thank you movie gods!
Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) has been tapped to pen the script new Wolf Man movie, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in talks to star. It is set to start filming in 2017 and has a 2018 release date. This will be the second foray into the universe and will help to tighten the bonds of the characters for future films. Please take a moment to howl at the moon.
Dracula And Van Helsing
'Dracula' is a 1931 American Pre-Code vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The film was produced by Universal and is based on the 1924 stage play 'Dracula' by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is loosely based on the novel 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker.
The yin and yang relationship of Van Helsing and Dracula goes back way before any film version. Bram Stoker brought them to life in his 1897 novel Dracula. Since then, there have been over 80 live-action versions of the Dracula on television and in film.
Van Helsing has been known to come along for the ride in most Dracula stories. He usually ends up playing the foil for Dracula. They have a relationship that seems to be bound by fate, meaning one exists because of or in spite of the other at all times. They are the original Batman and Joker — one couldn't exist without their counterpart — the light balances the darkness.
The 2004 film Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale was mildly entertaining but was overall despised by critics. It was a bit silly and had more of an action/adventure feel than horror (as most Dracula films do). Dracula is the main villain and is extremely forgettable. The plot is also a big mess. It involves Frankestein's Monster and um... something, maybe Lightning? Oh and Van Helsing is a Werewolf.
Ten years later, Lucas Evans would step into the role of Dracula in the 2014 film Dracula Untold. Much like the DC/WB film Green Lantern was meant to launch the DCEU, this film was meant to launch the Universal Monsters Universe. It wasn't so much a financial bomb, sitting at 22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and not appealing to audiences.
Moving forward, both characters will be rebooted. Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers) and Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, The Arrival) are writing the screenplay. No information has been released about casting, but given the caliber of actors Universal has been recruiting it is sure to be interesting to see who they choose.
Creature From The Black Lagoon
'Creature from the Black Lagoon' is a 1954 American black-and-white 3D monster horror film, produced by William Alland and directed by Jack Arnold. It stars Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, and Whit Bissell. The Creature was played by Ben Chapman on land and by Ricou Browning underwater. The film premiered in Detroit on February 12 and was released on a regional basis, opening on various dates.
Much like other Universal Monsters, The Creature From The Black Lagoon is not necessarily evil, but vastly understood and frightened. He only attacks the people in the film in self defense after first being attacked because of his frightful appearance. The themes of persecution are heavily evident in this story. It was poignant material to be tackled in the '50s and is still relevant today.
This is the single film among the properties that hasn't been remade yet. That seems ridiculous since it seems that every property under the sun is getting a reboot. There have been plans for a remake since 1982 but it has always fallen apart for one reason or another. Among the names of people attached to the failed projects were: John Carpenter, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, and Breck Eisner. All plans fell through and it never got off the ground.
In April of 2015 reports surfaced from Tracking Board that Scarlett Johansson was being offered the lead role (probably not as the Gil-Man). Universal is still moving forward with the project and has hired Jeff Pinker (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) to write the script.
'Frankenstein' is a 1931 American pre-Code horror monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling (which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley), about a scientist and his assistant who dig up corpses to build a monster, but his assistant accidentally gives the monster a murderer's brain.
It's ALIVE!!! The first live-action Frankenstein film was made in 1910. The novel, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, was published 90 years before that in 1818. Everyone knows of the creature brought to life by Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein in one form or another has appeared in just shy of 50 films, (not quite as many films as his buddy Dracula, but still quite impressive). His cultural relevance remains strong even after 200 years of existence.
Javier Bardem is in talks to play the role of Frankenstein's Monster. No writer or director has been attached for this film yet, and it is slated last among all of the UMCU movies. It will most likely be a while before we see our old buddy Frank join the rest of his monster pals.
The Bride Of Frankenstein
'Bride of Frankenstein' (advertised as 'The Bride of Frankenstein') is a 1935 American sci-fi horror film, the first sequel to Universal Pictures's 1931 hit 'Frankenstein.' As with the first film, 'Bride of Frankenstein' was directed by James Whale and stars Boris Karloff as The Monster. The sequel features Elsa Lanchester in the dual role of his mate and Mary Shelley, Colin Clive reprising his role as Henry Frankenstein, and Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Septimus Pretorius.
The Bride of Frankenstein is less popular than her husband but is no less important. Shortly after coming to life, Frankenstein's monster has a bit of an existential crisis. Not knowing why he has come to be, he asks for a partner to help give him purpose. The monster asks his creator to make him a mate. He reluctantly does so and creates a new creature — The Bride of Frankenstein. Ultimately she rejects him and it ends in disaster.
David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible) is writing the Bride of Frankenstein script and the studio is looking at Angelina Jolie to star in the titular role. No release date is set and the film is still in pre-production.
The Invisible Man
'The Invisible Man' is an American 1933 Pre-Code science fiction horror film based on H. G. Wells's science fiction novel 'The Invisible Man,' published in 1897, as adapted by R.C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges, whose work was considered unsatisfactory and who was taken off the project. Produced by Universal Studios, the film was directed by James Whale and stars Claude Rains, in his first American screen appearance, and Gloria Stuart.
A chemist named Dr. Jack Griffin discovers a formula for invisibility while testing a drug called monocane, which was known to cause madness. Griffin succumbs to the madness and is involved in a series of murders in a "plot" to take over the world. Eventually the law catches up with him and things do not end up well for The Invisible Man.
Unlike other Universal Monsters, The Invisible Man is legitimate bad guy. Although he is driven to madness by a drug, he still commits horrible acts for the sake of personal gain. His character arc fallows the path of absolute power corrupting absolutely, which may not be relatable on a personal level but can be easily understood by audiences.
In February of 2016 it was announced that Johnny Depp has been cast as Dr. Jack Griffin and Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) has been hired to write the screenplay. The Invisible Man is rumored for a 2018 release date.
Once all the monsters are introduced through all the various films it would make the most sense to do a Monster Squad type team-up. Much like the WB/DC film Suicide Squad, they will gather the worst of the worst to fight something bigger and badder than themselves. They could also just team up to take on humanity. Either of which sounds like an awesome movie. This is just an educated guess, based off the information we already have, which is very little. So what is to come for the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe?
The End, Or Is It?
With almost 100 years of rich history, the Universal Monsters franchise has a lot to live up to, boasting over 100 films and characters that have lasted the test of time. Universal seems to be putting their best foot forward by acquiring top shelf acting talent and outstanding writers.
Only time will tell if these properties will make a lasting impact on the public. Things do look hopeful and we shall see soon enough if all the time, effort, and money that Universal has put into these films pays off. For now we are just along for the ride. Next stop: The Mummy on June 9, 2017.
When it comes to horror, there are always more movies coming out than we can keep up with. Check out the list below of the 50 most important films of the last century that should be on your must watch list:
Are you excited for the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe? Which character are you most excited for? Let it be known in the comments below!
Which reboot are you most excited for?